David Hornillos, Mediodía

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2014 by Dalpine (here). Softcover, 128 pages, with 68 color photographs (7 in monochrome orange). The book is printed on black paper. There are no essays or texts. (Spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: One of the great strengths of the photobook form is that it can provide a place for a tightly defined artistic idea to flourish. David Hornillos’ Mediodía is an excellent example of a photographer digging in a relatively small conceptual sandbox and discovering a surprising diversity of photographic possibilities and outcomes in those close quarters. Starting with the orange brick walls of Madrid’s Atocha railway station as seen in the bright sun of midday, his images move from textural abstraction to intimate gestural narrative and back again, constantly walled in by the confines of the architectural environment. His book is like a chef testing himself to develop the maximum number of delicious recipes from a limited number of ingredients; it’s an ongoing exercise in experimentation within fixed boundaries.

The sequencing of Hornillos’ images starts at the most elemental, builds to a kind of crescendo of action, and then releases back to the original emptiness and silence; it’s like the ebb and flow of a wave. The first pictures are actually tinted monochromes, introducing the dominant orange color and playing with linear patterns of bricks, paving stones, and transitions, reveling in found abstraction. Then a single black dot on a wall jumps from monochrome to full color brightness, and our initial visitors to this controlled world are finally introduced: flying pigeons. Trapped by the walls, they flutter frantically trying to escape, casting winged shadows that seem to multiply to impossibility.

As people begin to enter Hornillos’ claustrophobic orange environment (that tight feeling enhanced by the tunnel-like edges of the black paper on which the photographs are printed), his images transition into careful studies of gesture and expression: looking at a hand, touching a neck, a swinging arm punch, a tender embrace. Feral cats, scrawny dogs, and lonely talking-to-themselves wanderers then emerge, bookended by more flying pigeons, scrabbling around in the constrained space. As the days pass, shadows fall, light flares, and the surreal cycle repeats, with faces often obscured, each traveler locked into his own interior world. As the book comes to a close, the people once again drain out of the station, leaving behind the last few pigeons and the still life abstractions of the walls themselves.

Compositionally, Hornillos has explored nearly every possible perspective in these pictures: straight down from above, stepped back, close up against the orange bricks, always aware of the receding lines of the brick walls and sidewalk edge and the linear shadows of the handrail. The best of the images twist the geometries into unexpected formal combinations of patterns and surfaces, then interrupted by the arrival of a human or animal actor; they’re like grubby, worn stage sets that isolate any movement into frozen, pared down stills, the surrounding black paper of the book like an enveloping and intimately darkened theater.

That such a mundane and soulless in-between space could be the scene of such quiet elegance is the triumph of this small volume. Hornillos has made the most of the limited options the railway station provided, turning an entirely forgettable pass through into a slow and thoughtful visual meditation. Mediodía is much more compelling than its subject matter might normally indicate, proving once again that even the most humble of settings can be a viable host for memorable photography.

Collector’s POV: David Hornillos does not appear to have gallery representation at this time. Interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist via his website (linked above).

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